10 days on the Kaibab in search of The Big One
Peoria resident Rick Thompson set his sights on harvesting an ‘exceptional’ buck mule deer
I just got back from a long 10-day mule deer hunt on the Kaibab in northern Arizona. It was a hunt filled with exciting experiences and things that we as sportsmen live for.
It was about success and failure, and how Lady Luck plays an important part of a hunt. I was privileged to hunt with Rick Thompson of Peoria.
Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, Rick and I were brought together to do this hunt. Rick had burned all 18 of his bonus points when he and a friend put in together and they drew this tag.
Rick is what is called a selective hunter. That is a hunter who has reached a stage in his life when taking a special animal is the driving force behind why he hunts.Thompson has taken a number of big game animals during his hunting career, including a great high-190-inch mule deer buck that he bagged in Colorado.
Thompson made it very clear from the start that we would be looking for an exceptional deer.
He would be seeking a deer that had what we call in the business, “trash,” which is actually extra points that sometimes grow on the racks of a mature mule deer buck.
The 12A west Kaibab late hunt is arguably the third best deer hunt in Arizona. It is at a time of the year when the bucks are starting to go into the annual rut or mating season. And a lot of deer are usually seen on this hunt.
During the 10 days that we were on the Kaibab we faced a number of challenges. We had inclement weather on several days, including one morning when we went through a torrential downpour that lasted over two hours. Then we were faced with very cold, windy weather that made the deer hard to find.
But it is all part of what we call hunting. You face these challenges and you go out and do your best.
Despite all of the trials and tribulations that we faced, we also had some very exciting moments during the hunt. Rick saw two American bald eagles while we were up there, plus one morning I called in a mountain lion to about 40 yards.
We saw foxes, coyotes and one afternoon Rick got to see a flock of over 100 Merriam’s turkeys.
And we saw a lot of mule deer. In fact, during our time we saw about 1,000 mule deer and that included over 100 different bucks of all shapes and sizes!
One of our friends, Lake Havasu City resident Angel Bell, got here on the last Friday evening of her hunt. She and her friend, Mike Hulsey, had both been very sick and were unable to come up to the Kaibab for the start of her hunt.
With just a couple of hours to hunt on Friday afternoon, Mike and Angel saw 18 does and eight bucks in an area that I sent them.
Then the next morning they saw over 50 deer and heard some rifle shots from down below where they were at.
They saw deer running up a large drainage and Mike glassed up a very nice buck – one that Rick had passed up not once, but twice on his hunt.
This was Angel’s first ever mule deer hunt and it was a buck that she would not pass. She made a great 335 yard shot off the shooting sticks and took down this magnificent buck, which actually had six points on one antler and five on the other. At the check-in station at Jacob Lake, Mike said he was told that it was one of the top 10 bucks taken on the hunt this year.
In the end, it was not meant to be for Rick to wrap a tag around the antlers of a magnificent Kaibab mule deer.
But that does not mean he did not see a buck of a lifetime and actually have the opportunity to take it.
It was Saturday evening of Day 9 when Rick saw the magnificent old buck.
It was just under 300 yards away and all Rick could see was a small part of his neck and a huge rack!
Also complicating matters was the fact that a doe was standing beside this old buck. Being an ethical sportsman, Rick wisely passed on taking what would have been risky shot at this old warrior.
The buck then disappeared into the thick juniper jungle, never to be seen again.
The last day of the hunt, Rick and I set all day by the drinker where we had seen the monarch on two occasions.
Though other deer, including bucks that Rick passed on, came in that day, the big guy didn’t show up.
It’s called hunting for a reason and despite not filling the tag it was an awesome experience with a new friend.
I would like to thank some friends who live in St. George, Utah, who came out on the weekends to help with the glassing chores on this hunt.
These mule deer aficionados include Bryan Beckstead, aka “The Deer Whisperer,” Colby Adams, aka “Bwana” and “Big Dan” Driggs.
These guys live to look for mule deer and their friendship and camaraderie is greatly appreciated.